Let's start with the first statement. Managing a business intelligence (BI) project is considerably different from managing a traditional software development project due to the melding of wide-ranging business requirements with various software and hardware technologies. In addition, traditional software development projects adhere to a development methodology that logically progresses in a serial manner until completion, while BI projects require an iterative approach that begins in development and continues through implementation as new information requirements are addressed and the business evolves. BI projects also require the project team to have greater interaction with a broader constituency, ranging from other IT professionals who are responsible for the information systems that capture or create data to business analysts and executives who need to access it.
To be successful in the field of BI, a project team needs members with an understanding of and appreciation for the information needs of the user community as well as the technologies. In certain cases, this requires subject-matter-specific expertise about a business process or function, such as supply chain or finance. Of course, having in-depth knowledge of essential technologies such as data integration, dimensional modeling or enterprise reporting and analysis is a must as well. Leading a BI project to its successful implementation requires many skills and traits that range from common project management abilities to unique knowledge and experience.
The people behind the projects are the fundamental drivers of success. They must possess a wide range of skills in order to be effective project managers. Over the years, I have worked on numerous BI projects in a variety of roles ranging from business analyst to technical architect and project manager. In addition, I have had the pleasure of working with several outstanding BI project managers such as Glenn Drayer, Denise LeGault, Josh Raysman and Damon Bowman as a project advisor or an engagement manager. I have also worked with a few BI project managers who were ineffective leaders or inexperienced with BI technologies; the names of the "guilty" are best left unsaid. Unfortunately, these projects floundered until a change in leadership was executed. My experiences with both successful and unsuccessful project managers has left a lasting impression when it comes to deciding what approaches to take - or not - when leading a BI project.
From these collective experiences, I have distilled my appreciation and observations of those characteristics that distinguish outstanding BI project managers from their peers. This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of the skills and characteristics for project managers, but rather to focus on those characteristics that differentiate outstanding BI project managers.
Beyond firmly understanding the principles of project management, a BI project manager must be knowledgeable about the business and technical aspects of the project. Outstanding BI project managers continuously stay informed of advancements in the field of BI.
Risk is posed when an individual who is not knowledgeable about BI technologies or the subject matter is in the leadership role. If a person cannot knowledgeably manage a team, the staffing situation contradicts the primary goal of achieving results. This is also unfair to the project team, which can suffer from a lack of guidance.
Outstanding BI project managers have an understanding of technical architectures and the differences between the corporate information factory and dimensional warehousing. They also have an understanding of the subject matter and the corresponding business processes and functions that will be addressed by the project. Their business and technical knowledge helps them advise and challenge their technical architects and business leads in order to formulate and design a solution that satisfies the information needs of the business community. In essence, they have the ability to provide guidance in any area of the project.
Lastly, an outstanding BI project manager recognizes what he or she knows - or doesn't. With this understanding, he or she seeks guidance and assistance from other individuals who can contribute to the success of the project and help to mitigate knowledge gaps involving business requirements or BI technology.
Not much can compare to having practical experience as a project manager or working on a BI project. Being book smart or knowledgeable about project management or BI development methodologies is great from a theoretical perspective. However, when in the middle of the development phase of a BI project, having previous experience helps the project manager to identify, react to and resolve items before they become issues. These can range from technical challenges such as creating a data model to satisfy business requirements, to changes in business requirements that arise because users have gained a better understanding of what you are trying to build for them and are now able to articulate their needs. Ideally, a project manager has served in various capacities and roles on previous BI initiatives.
In addition to practical experience working on BI projects, an effective project manager must manage the scope of the project and its budget. Scope creep is a common occurrence on a BI project. This requires project managers to actively monitor tasks, deliverables and each project team member's time and expenses. By actively managing these items, he or she can determine the impact of a change request, thereby mitigating project overruns and managing the project sponsors' expectations.
Not everyone possesses the leadership skills or qualities that are needed to manage a BI project. An outstanding project manager must be able to inspire people and garner respect, not just among the project team members, but also among the sponsors and representatives from the user community. This requires the project manager to manage the expectations of both his or her direct reports as well as his or her supervisors, which establishes rapport and helps to create accountability for everyone involved.